AMMAN (Reuters) – Pope Benedict visited a mosque on Saturday in another attempt to mend fences with Islam after a 2006 speech caused offence, and urged Christians and Muslims to jointly defend religion from political manipulation.
Speaking at the modern King Hussein bin Talal Mosque in Amman, he struck a note of harmony and shared purpose between the world’s two largest religions, continuing a main theme of his trip to the Middle East.
“I firmly believe Christians and Muslims can embrace (the task of cooperation) particularly through our respective contributions to learning and scholarship, and public service,” he told Islamic leaders and diplomats at the mosque.
Addressing the pope, Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad bin Talal, reminded the pope of the “hurt” Muslims around the world felt in 2006 after Benedict quoted a Byzantine emperor who said Islam was irrational and violent.
Ghazi, a cousin of Jordanian King Abdullah, told the gathering the Muslim world “appreciated” the Vatican’s clarification and accepted that the pope was not expressing his own opinion at the time but making an historical citation.
Ghazi, a leading figure in the “Common Word” group of Muslim scholars promoting dialogue with Christians, praised the pope for his “friendly gestures and kindly actions towards Muslims” since the 2006 speech prompted outrage.
Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said the pope did not remove his shoes or pray while in the mosque, as he did during his first visit to a mosque in Turkey in 2006, but rather paused for “a respectful moment of reflection”.
Lombardi said the pope did not remove his shoes as he was being shown around the mosque as his hosts did not ask him to.
Catholic conservatives criticised the pope in 2006 after he prayed towards Mecca with the Imam of a mosque in Istanbul.
In one section of his address at the mosque, Benedict referred to God as “merciful and compassionate”, using the formula Muslims use when speaking of God.
Benedict said while no-one could deny a history of tensions and divisions, Christians and Muslims should prevent “the manipulation of religion, sometimes for political ends”.
“That is the real catalyst for tension and division, and at times even violence in society”.
His overtures on this trip have not pleased all Muslims.
Sheikh Hamza Mansour, a leading Islamist scholar and politician, told Reuters the pope had “not sent any message to Muslims that expresses his respect for Islam or its religious symbols starting with the Prophet”.
Common Word spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said the pope’s speech would not erase the Regensburg speech from popular memory in the Muslim world but noted with approval that Benedict stressed in his speech that Muslims and Christians worshipped the same God.
“That’s a long way from the Regensburg speech,” he said.
Earlier on Saturday, the pope retraced the steps of Moses, visiting Mount Nebo where the Bible says the ancient prophet glimpsed the Promised Land before dying.
“Like Moses, we too have been called by name, invited to undertake a daily exodus from sin and slavery towards life and freedom,” he said in the sixth-century Moses Memorial Church.
“His example reminds us that we too are part of the ageless pilgrimage of God’s people through history.”
He also struck a note of Christian-Muslim understanding in Madaba, a town near Mount Nebo, when he blessed the cornerstone of a new Catholic university being built there with state h Benedict will stay in Jordan until Monday, when he moves on to Israel to start the most delicate part of his trip.
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